Navy Expected to Recommend a Force of About 300 Ships
A "force structure" review that is about to be completed is likely to recommend that the Navy needs around 300 ships to meet its future demands.
The study is not yet finished, but could be presented to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus as early as next week, said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert.
A 300-ship Navy is slightly larger than the current fleet of 285, but it is smaller than previous recommendations. Navy leaders since 2006 have said the fleet should grow to 313 ships.
During a breakfast with reporters March 16, Greenert said the review is not "budget driven" but is based on what the Navy projects it will need to carry out global responsibilities by 2020.
After Mabus gives the study the green light, it will be sent to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for approval, and then presented to congressional committees before it is publicly released, Greenert said.
The 300-ship recommendation is likely to spur criticism from Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee, who have chided Navy leaders for under-funding shipbuilding accounts at a time when naval forces are in high demand, and a potential crisis is brewing in the Persian Gulf.
From the current fleet of 285 ships, 100 are deployed, said Greenert.
He pushed back on the criticism that the Navy is not budgeting enough money as it seeks to expand its presence in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and increase support of Southern Command's antidrug campaign. "I am comfortable that we can resource the strategy properly," Greenert said.
The 300-ship Navy, however, would not materialize until after 2020. The current budget forecasts a 285-ship force at least through 2017.
The Navy will be able to do its job with fewer ships, officials said, by "forward stationing" vessels in Europe, Singapore, Bahrain, the Diego Garcia territory and Japan; and by relying on civilian crews from the Military Sealift Command.
Despite budget cuts, the Navy will keep all 11 aircraft carriers and their 10 air wings, each of which is equipped with about 60 aircraft.
Navy Undersecretary Robert Work in recent public appearances has defended the idea that a larger force is not necessarily the way to fulfill future missions. A smaller but high-tech fleet of modern ships, aircraft and drones is more valuable than a larger force that might be less capable, Work has argued. “Is it going to be 313 ships or 310? I don’t care,” Work said in January. ... “Everything interconnects. You can’t just count ships.”